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LITCHFIELD INDEPENDENT REVIEW
SEPTEMBER 22, 2011
Holland: LHS graduate hikes entire 2,181 miles of Appalachian Trail
FROM PAGE 1B
Fighting mental battle
The Appalachian Trail is an
arduous hike, spanning a diverse terrain from rolling
farmland to mountainous,
rocky summits. The trail’s
2,181 miles are maintained by
about 30 volunteer clubs, who
clear brush and build amenities like the three-sided camp
structures that protect hikers
from the elements while they
The trail begins in the Chattahouchee National Forest in
Georgia, where through-hikers register and have their
gear weighed at a ranger’s
station before departing.
There are numerous other unofficial check-in points along
the route, where hikers can
sign in, “in case something
were to go wrong,” Holland
said. But the only other official registration sites are at
Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., and at
the trailhead on Mount
The Appalachian Trail is an arduous hike, spanning a
diverse terrain from rolling farmland to mountainous, rocky summits. The trail, which spans 2,181 miles,
begins in the Chattahouchee National Forest in Georgia, where through-hikers register and have their
gear weighed at a ranger’s station before departing.
The only other official registration sites are at Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., and at the trailhead on Mount
Katahdin in Maine, where hikers receive recognition
for completing the hike.
Appalachian Trail facts
Katahdin in Maine, where
hikers receive recognition for
completing the hike.
Through-hikers can start at
either end of the trail, though
most choose to begin at the
southern terminus in Georgia.
That’s where Holland started on March 16. He already
had much of the equipment
needed for the hike, including
a lightweight tent, and purchased the rest once he committed to the hike.
He also decided that he
would venture into the small
towns along the trail to purchase food every four or five
days as he needed it. Some
through-hikers arrange for
supply drop sites along the
trail. But Holland, showing
the slightest uncertainty in
his own abilities, decided not
to spend the money for shipping supplies, should he not
make the entire trip.
“I wanted to do that, too, because I knew that supported
some of the local businesses
along the trail,” Holland said.
His initial pace was fairly
fast, in part because of the
easier terrain on the south
end of the trail, but also because of his enthusiasm and
Though he hiked alone for
almost two-thirds of the trail,
Holland said he never felt too
alone. He figured he met almost 100 hikers along the
way, and knew — based on unofficial sign-in points — that
at most times there were 10 or
12 hikers a day ahead of him
and another 10 or 12 a day behind.
His pace slowed considerably in Pennsylvania when
his fiance joined him, something they both expected as
she became acclimated to the
physical test. And, even
though the pace slowed, Holland said his fiance’s joining
the journey made all the difference for him as his enthusiasm for the journey became
suffocated by the monotony of
“It gets to be a grind. It gets
to be a full day’s work,” Holland said. “A lot of people burn
out. I was very lucky at the
end to have my fiancee come
out. I couldn’t push her for 17
or 20 mile days, so I slowed
down and enjoyed the trail a
Still, he fought the mental
battle regularly during the final week or two of the journey.
“At about 1,800 miles in, a
lot of people were hitting a
wall,” he said. “Towards the
end, I was completely ready
for it to be done,” Holland said.
“But if it got too bad, I always
tried to think in my mind,
‘There’s a lot of people who
would love to be here right
That mental grind hits at
about the same time as the
more challenging physical
tests begin, Holland explained
— a combination fraught with
danger and disappointment
for those who have spent
months on the trail.
The trail becomes rocky and
rugged. The “most difficult
mile” of the Appalachian Trail
is at Mahoosuc Notch in
southern Maine, where a
rocky canyon requires hikers
to crawl over, around and even
through some of the rocky
“You have to go through
some of the caves in these
boulders, and it’s so dark that
there’s ice down there year
’round,” Holland said. “It’s
surreal, because there ice is
kind of steaming. It normally
takes two to three hours to do
that one mile. Once you’re
there, you don’t know how far
you are from the end. We got
to it at the end of the day and
it was starting to get dark.
That was a wild place.”
For the time-worn hiker —
even those with plenty of experience — the Mahoosuc
Notch and other areas also
can be dangerous places.
“I honestly got very lucky,”
Holland said. “I developed
maybe a hairline fracture in
my foot in Pennsylvania (and)
just kind of pushed through it.
But a lot of people got off (the
trail) even in New Hampshire
from fractures. Falls took a lot
of people off. It was heartbreaking to hear about these
people going 1,800 miles and 4
1/2 months and not being able
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Hiking his own hike
Stories about those who fell
short served as motivation to
continue his journey, Holland
said, especially after his fiance
left to return to her teaching
job. At that point, he was just
118 miles from completing the
trail, a trip he finished the
And he pushed through,
eventually arriving at the
summit of Mount Katahdin
and completing his ultimate
“A motto on the trail is ‘Hike
your own hike.’ That means,
do what you want to do,” Holland said. “You don’t have to
feel like you have to keep up
with other people. You just do
what’s right for you.
“You really develop an appreciation for the simplicity
and kind of a little bit that,
even though all this is hard,
all I have to do today is hike 15
or 17 miles or whatever.”
When he reached the summit at Katahdin, another
group of through-hikers were
already there, sharing a celebratory bottle of champagne
with wide smiles, Holland recalled. His was a more muted
— but no less emotional — celebration.
“I put my hands on it,” Holland said of the sign announcing the trailhead, “and then
just rested my head on it and
let that emotion of the moment take over ... relief, excitement.”
◆ The trail was completed in 1937 and is considered a unit of the
National Park System. It is managed by a public-private partnership
that includes the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, state
agencies, the Appalachian trail Conservancy and 31 local trail clubs.
◆ The trail is approximately 2,180 miles long, depending on annual changes.
◆ It passes through 14 states, beginning at Springer Mountain,
Ga., and running to Mount Katahdin, Maine.
◆ Between 2 million and 3 million people visit a portion of the
trail each year, with about 1,800 to 2,000 attempting to “throughhike.”
◆ The total elevation gain of an Appalachian Trail through-hike
is equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 16 times.
◆ Foods high in calories and low in water weight, such as candy
bars and Ramen Noodles are popular with backpackers, who can
burn up to 6,000 calories per day.
◆ The number of people hiking the entire Trail has risen dramatically over the years. From 1936 to 1969, only 59 completions are
recorded. In 1970, the numbers began to rise. Ten people completed the Trail in 1970, including Ed Garvey, whose thru-hike was wellpublicized. The trend was further fueled by the release of Garvey's
popular book, Appalachian Hiker: Adventure of a Lifetime. The term
“2,000-miler” was coined in the late 1970s to help identify this
growing group of hikers.
◆ By 1980, the total number of 2,000-milers had increased more
than ten-fold. The total had doubled by 1990 and again by 2000.
More hike completions were reported for the year 2000 alone than
in the first 40 years combined. The 10,000th hike completion was
recorded in 2008.
Source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy
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William Holland and his fiancee, LeAnn Alstadt, stand on Franconia Ridge in the White
Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. Alstadt joined Holland for about 800 miles
of the 2,181-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail.
spent several weeks as a commercial salmon fisherman in
Alaska. Even his LHS yearbook photo was accompanied
by his ambition to “backpack
With college graduation approaching and a plan to enter
graduate school in the fall,
Holland knew he was facing a
lengthy break from academic
pursuits this spring. At about
the same time he was pondering this hiatus from textbooks, a book showed up on
his online suggested reading
list. “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the
Appalachian Trail” is a
comedic look at hiking the
trail, written by Bill Bryson
and published in the late
1990s. The story sparked curiosity in Holland.
“I had never heard of the
Appalachian Trail,” Holland
admitted, but he began collecting as much information
about the trail and about hiking it as he could.
Among the things he
learned was that the Appalachian Trail offers an endurance test like no other, although as hiking experiences
a bit of a resurgence, more
people are taking on the challenge. From 1936 to 1969, just
59 Appalachian Trail throughhikes — traversing the entire
length of the trail in one season — were recorded. Numbers began to rise in 1970, and
by 1980, more than 2,100 hikers had completed the challenge. Through the end of the
2010 hiking season, the total
number of successful throughhikes stood at 12,059.
That might seem like a
large number, but it represents only about one in four
among the thousands who set
out on the journey.
And that was just the kind
of test Holland figured he was
“I felt a little bit like I wanted to remove myself from all
the technology and do something more primal and physical and complete this journey
that a lot of people don’t get to
take,” he said.
Once he committed in his
own mind to hiking the 2,181mile expanse, he spent some
time convincing his parents it
was worthwhile. Though they
had heard about the trail,
Robert and Susan Holland
wondered about their son’s
“They were like, ‘Well, this
is kind of weird,’” Holland said
with a chuckle. “I laid out the
pros and cons ... I had money
saved, I didn’t have any big
He also resorted to a bit of
reverse psychology in order to
convince them, using the statistical improbability of successfully completing the hike
as a kind of ally.
“I kind of threw out that,
‘Well, if you look at the odds,
I’ll probably drop out in the
first month anyway,” Holland
said. “They eventually said,
‘Well, go try it out.”
He didn’t have to use quite
as much of a sales job on his fiancee, LeAnn Alstadt, who
was excited about Holland’s
goal. In fact, even though
school and other commitments kept her from hiking
the entire trail, she did complete about 800 miles of the
journey with Holland after
joining him in Pennsylvania.
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